Carrie Lam

Bus driver charged over fatal crash as Hong Kong cancels Lunar New Year fireworks

Chief Executive Carrie Lam calls decision to do away with fireworks display an ‘expression of citywide mourning’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 6:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2018, 3:07pm

Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year fireworks set for this Saturday have been called off out of respect for the victims of the city’s deadliest traffic accident in more than a decade, as the driver was on Monday night charged with causing death by dangerous driving.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced the cancellation as donations to the 84 families affected by the tragedy doubled to HK$42.5 million. Meanwhile a judge-led inquiry into the incident was endorsed by the city’s top judge.

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Police on Monday night pressed a charge of causing death by dangerous driving against the 30-year-old KMB bus driver. He was expected to appear at Fanling Court on Tuesday.

Nineteen people died and 66 others were injured on Saturday when a KMB double-decker travelling from Sha Tin racecourse towards Tai Po suddenly swerved out of control and flipped on its side while making a turn near Tai Po Mei.

Six people were still in hospital in critical condition on Monday evening.

President Xi Jinping expressed “condolences and sympathy” to the families of the victims on Monday night. He instructed the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong to convey to the chief executive his sadness over the deaths and injuries, Xinhua reported.

Xi urged city officials to do their best in their follow-up efforts for those affected.

Premier Li Keqiang and National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang also conveyed their condolences.

I have ... come to the decision that we should cancel this year’s fireworks
Chief Executive Carrie Lam

The government will fly the Hong Kong and national flags at half mast at its headquarters in Admiralty on Tuesday, while the city’s legislature and Lam’s cabinet were expected to observe a minute’s silence to mourn the dead.

Also late Monday, the Hong Kong Jockey Club announced that its horse races on Wednesday would still take place but that one minute of silence would be observed for those who died in the accident. The club added that it would fly its flag at half mast as well.

Lam said city officials would refrain from attending any major celebratory events in the “next one or two weeks”.

“This bus incident is an extremely tragic one, and in the last two days we have heard from various quarters, including Legislative Council members across the political spectrum, suggesting that in order to pay respect to the deceased and the victims, and also for the community to express their grief, it would not be very appropriate to continue with the Lunar New Year fireworks,” she explained.

“I have taken into account their suggestions, their views, and the general sentiment in the community, and come to the decision that we should cancel this year’s fireworks.”

A hallmark of the city’s calendar, the display had been scheduled to run from 8pm on Saturday, the second day of the Lunar New Year holiday, and last for 23 minutes.

Organisers had planned to launch 29,000 pyrotechnic shells from barges in Victoria Harbour, featuring a series of Lunar New Year-themed designs, such as golden ingots, peach blossoms and a dog – the next lunar year is the Year of the Dog.

The display would have been held on the seventh day after the tragedy, when according to Chinese tradition, the spirit of a dead person returns home for a final farewell to loved ones.

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It is not the first time fireworks have been cancelled. There were no pyrotechnics on National Day in 2014, amid the pro-democracy Occupy protests, and exactly a year before that in 2013 during the first anniversary of the Lamma ferry crash, in which 39 people were killed.

Lam said the event sponsor, Chevalier International Holdings, had been informed, and any money saved as a result of the cancellation would go to the families of the crash victims. 

The fireworks display was expected to cost the sponsor HK$8.8 million to stage. Chevalier International has pledged to donate no less than HK$1 million to help the victims and their families.

Since Sunday about HK$42.5 million has been raised by a number charities, including one of KMB’s charitable funds, to help the victims. The money will be handled by the Social Welfare Department and doled out to the 84 families in need. 

Lam also announced on Monday that Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li had backed the setting up of an independent committee, led by a judge, to investigate the accident. 

“Our priority is to assign a judge to lead the committee, but this will take some time,” Lam said. 

“Preparation work is already under way – this includes drafting the committee’s terms of reference, which will be expanded to include issues the public is concerned with.”

Representatives of KMB attended a special meeting of Tai Po District Council on Monday, along with councillors and officials from different government departments.

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Before the meeting, attendees stood in silence for about a minute in remembrance of the victims. The KMB representatives bowed twice and apologised to all the families.

KMB managing director Roger Lee Chak-cheong said an investigation committee formed by the company had held its first meeting and would submit a report within a month.

But bus drivers’ unions continued to lash out at company bosses for allegedly exploiting staff without providing professional training for those who needed to drive new routes.

“The KMB senior management can’t evade their responsibility for this incident,” said Lai Siu-chung, deputy director of the Motor Transport Workers General Union’s KMB branch. Lai said the firm had also neglected quality control for part-time staff.

“Since KMB overhauled its senior management, the company has launched a lot of [cost-cutting] measures … It sacked a lot of middle to lower ranked management as well as the supporting manpower for drivers.

“That’s why the drivers hold a lot of grievances and have a poor sense of belonging to the company.”

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But KMB insisted its drivers were adequately trained.

“KMB provides training for all new bus captains to familiarise them with the routes assigned. They have to undergo at least 16 hours of training on a route” with a qualified instructor, the company said.

KMB added that it had a regular mechanism to monitor the physical condition, behaviour and performance of all drivers.